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FUEL SUBSIDY: JONATHAN SHOULD DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIANS - NWOKEDI

By NBF News
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By Bashir Adefaka
HIS Royal Majesty, Igwe Ezeoba Alex Nwokedi, was the pioneer Public Relations Manager of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN). He later emerged as Press Secretary to former Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) during his military administration and worked briefly in the same capacity with President Usman Shehu Shagari before going to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, where he headed the corporation's Public Relations Department. The royal father is the 23rd Uthokpo Na Eze Achalla in Akwa North Local Council of Anambra State. A former member of the pen profession, Nwokedi in this interview bares his mind on burning national issues and the state of the nation. Excerpts:

President Goodluck Jonathan was recently urged by Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju (rtd) to revisit the Major General Abisoye Panel's report on NNPC as he said the report contains answers to questions of fuel subsidy removal, an issue that is causing ripples in the country. What is your take on that?

First, I want to warn that NNPC should be left alone. Before delving into your question I want to say that before now, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) was the main corporation in this country. As a matter of fact, Sir Raphael Martins who used to be General Manager of the Nigeria Railway Corporation used to act for the governor-general when he went on leave.

So, in short, NRC was the second government of the day in Nigeria. Interference has killed that corporation. Look at what it is now. Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) used to be an effective agency in Nigeria. I don't know if it still exists. Now the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) turned to National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) and NEPA turned to PHCN.

When you talk of fuel subsidy, I think the most important thing is to go through the Bill on Petroleum Industry to give the NNPC the opportunity to go to the capital market like similar industries in other countries such as England, Norway, and India.

And I want to appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan to take the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), and Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria (MAN) and so on into confidence. Let them sit down with him to discuss the issue.

For example, I personally want to know how much they are going to realise from this (fuel subsidy removal) and how much will be given to each of the agencies targeted. Also, if you are going to get N400 billion from it, how much are you going to give for education? How much are you going to give for infrastructure? How much are you going to give for special projects like roads, hospitals and so on? You cannot just say some of it will be given to roads, education and so on. No. We need to know how much we are going to realise from it and how much will be given.

It's a long time I left the NNPC and so I'm not so abreast with subsidy issue but my own plea is that our President should liaise with all stakeholders and carry them along. Because we want him to succeed just as we want our governors to succeed. Their failure means our failure. If Anambra State governor, for instance, doesn't do well today, it's we, all of us in the state, who are not doing well.

How do you view calls for revolution by some eminent persons in the country?

It's only people who don't know what revolution is all about that talk about revolution. Revolution does not know anybody. Once you are good looking, properly dressed, you are a target. I remember during the military period, some newspapers were writing about students' revolution in the country and so on. I went to plead with them that they should stop writing such a thing and that, instead of writing about revolution they should endeavour to calm down the anger of the students rather than flare it up.

I remember also that I told them that in a situation of students' demonstration, anybody they met on the street was a target. I warned our colleagues in the media that time and it happened that the day the demonstration started, it was unfortunate that the first four people they met on Eko Bridge or so were media men - editors who were going to work. They were in their cars trapped on the bridge. They were so much beaten and their cars got smashed.

I went back to them in their office and told them that 'did I not tell you that that demonstration you were calling for neither knows father nor mother and that anybody who is not demonstrating with them is a target?' People like Prince Tony Momoh, who was then editor of the Daily Times, arrested the situation. Prince Momoh was very helpful to me in trying to put things straight. There were also people like, as I said, Sam Amuka, Eddie Aderinokun and a host of them. So please, let us not talk of revolution.

Since you are preaching against revolution, most Nigerians will argue that the country's fortunes have continued to dwindle. What do you make of this?

I want to appeal, first, to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that they should please ensure that all elections in Nigeria are always free, fair and truly democratic. As a matter of fact, no party should rule or be in power for more than two terms.

Igwe Nkwokedi
In other countries of the world, no party has ruled for more than two terms and it is deliberately so I think. In America for instance, when the Democratic rules for two terms, the third term every electoral effort is made to install the Republican and in Britain when Labour rules for one or two terms, every effort is also made to install the Conservative or it becomes an alliance.

And the reason for this is to give generations the opportunity of seeing other governments in action. If Labour is in government for 20 years, everybody will be fed up and it could bring trouble. If the Conservative is to be in government for 20-25 years, that could bring trouble. So they always give chance for new generations to see new governments.

And I want to appeal to our parties, any of them that makes it to government, should not cling too much to power, it does not augur well. Clinging to power is not good. An attempt in the past to cling unto power in the West brought problem in this country. So please let us stop clinging to power. If we have to conduct elections, local governments, states and federal, we should ensure that they are free, fair and democratic.

If we do that, we would have good governance which will bring about the positive change that all of us are clamouring for. Therefore, I want to appeal to Nigerians, that instead of calling for revolution, we should call for the process to make entrenchment of that desired good governance possible.

Your primary constituency is the media. What is your assessment of media representatives in government vis-à-vis their anticipated contribution to moving the country forward?

What I want to tell you is that, this world is like a mirror, if you smile at the mirror, it will smile back at you. If you frown, the mirror will frown at you. Isn't it? I'm appealing to our colleagues, who are in government like the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Special Advisers to Governors on Media and so on to come out of their places and reach out to the media in an effort to partner with them for the nation-building project.

The media, I can assure you, is always ready and willing to assist. Let them come out and meet them. Up till now, many people don't even know who the media aides to the governors are. What are they doing in their offices? The positions they occupy are positions of activities and so they should come out and reach out to the media in order to give the media the direction of work.

When I was with Obasanjo in office as Head of State and I was his Press Secretary, my house in Ikoyi was called Geneva. Do you know why they called it Geneva? Every night, journalists gathered there and in the course of their gathering, they abused government as they liked but they ensured that whatever they said there ended there.

It was now left for me to gather information and ideas from what they discussed that night on the feelings of Nigerian people about the government. And from there I would meet my boss and we would discuss on how to bring it up.

What I also want to tell you is that, whenever there is a fault, it is not the fault of the media, it is the fault of the people charged with responsibility to relate with the media on behalf of the government. It is their responsibility to come out of their offices and reach out to the media to interact with them and they should do so.

We, the media, built this country and we have no option than to continue to build the country for our children and their children to come. So we can't destroy what we built but I'm appealing to all the people put in charge to ensure that the media support government positively and correctly to live up to their responsibilities.

Your kingdom recently celebrated its New Yam Festival. What is the significance of the festival to your people and the throne?

The New Yam Festival marks the end of the year in my kingdom. It is the day I especially reach out to my people and I and my people give thanks to Almighty God for having protected us for the past year and guarded us through the farming to harvesting periods. On the day, we give God thanks for what He has done and we pray for better harvest in the coming year.

The New Yam Festival is so significant to my people because a day out of the four days of the celebration is set aside for our women. The first day is the day the festival itself is held and that is the day I reach out to people the more. The second day is for celebration the titled men who come out to thank Almighty God for the new yam. Then the third day is ceremony for late titled men; while the fourth day is specially made for the women. That is the day husbands make special presents to their wives in appreciation of the support they give during the farming period.

You buy whatever you can to make your wife happy and make sure that she gives you further and better support in the years ahead. Because she cooks for her husband when he goes to farm and she also cooks for the labourers working for her husband; when you hire labourers to work for you in the farm, you feed them and it's your wife who does the cooking for them and when you come back in the evening, she has the duty of ensuring that good meal is prepared for you again.

So our wives play very active roles in our farming system in my kingdom to deserve the fourth day of the New Yam Festival celebration earmarked for them in appreciation of the roles they play.

As the past chairman, Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, a position now occupied by the Obi of Onitsha, how do you relate and share experiences to ensure state development is not left to the government alone?

First and foremost, the Obi Achebe of Onitsha is a personal friend of mine. We have been friends since when I was with the NNPC, while he was with Shell Petroleum Company.

But I do one thing: I don't interfere with anybody's portfolio. Obi of Onitsha and I used to have breakfast together at times during which we also discuss issues. I did the same thing when I was Press Secretary to the Head of State, General Obasanjo, when I used to consult with other top public relations officers like Chief Alex Akinyele, who later became Minister of Information in this country; Prince Willy Nwokedi; Chief Mike Okereke; top public relations men. When we had tough issues, I went out of my way to discuss with them. I used to approach them because they were not the ones to come out to approach me. I needed them to succeed. They were the experienced ones.

One advice I want to give to the present generation of Press Secretary now called Special Adviser on Media to the President and Special Advisers on Media to the Governors and any one given any public assignment is to first of all find out why he was chosen for that assignment. What special qualities do I have to warrant my being chosen?

For example when I was appointed chairman of Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, I made enquiries why I was appointed and it was explained to me: my background, heredity, my knowledge, my experience and so on. So if you are given a post, try and find out why you are given that post to know if you have special qualities qualifying you to be there.

Then it is your duty to be consulting your predecessors. It is also your duty to reach out to people and ask them questions. And I can give you an example of my time as Press Secretary to the Head of State. In difficult periods like that of students' riots and so on, I consulted and we sat down to discuss how the matter should be handled because nobody alone has repository of knowledge.

And I could remember I got good help from people like Mr. Sam Amuka, Eddie Aderinokun. So, it is the incumbent who should go and reach out to people that can help him succeed and not the other way round because you may be accused of interference or of trying to impose yourself on the incumbent.

I and the Obi of Onitsha meet at times to discuss various issues geared towards development of Anambra State. My main concern now in the state is geared towards sports development and I am gathering some well meaning people to form what is called Association of Sports Development in Anambra State. The objective is to assist our government in its objectives and policies on sports development. We are also borrowing ideas from what is happening in places like Lagos colleges.

For example, we are calling on the old students of some colleges in Anambra State; like Christ the King College (CKC), Prince Recreative College (PRC), Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Our Ladies High School and other colleges in the state. We are trying to reach out to their old students to come back and help their Alma matters just like old students of colleges in Lagos are helping their Alma matters.

For instance, I know that in St. Gregory's College, we the old boys do a lot to assist the school in anyway we can. This is what we are trying to achieve in Anambra State. Old students, some of them are in the House, in successful business and are doing well.

Igwe Nwokedi
They are in positions to assist educational development in Anambra State by helping their previous institutions. Help them to organise inter-house sports, annual competitions, donate cups. The association is on formative stage and I believe in the next one year, we will take off and our objectives will be well spelt out in helping the institutions in Anambra State. I intend to involve also the Obi of Onitsha because he is a good sportsman and another traditional ruler who can help develop sports in Anambra State.

Could you comment on calls for traditiional rulers to be given constitutional roles?

Yes, I get amused at times when I hear people talking about constitutional roles for traditional rulers in the Constitution. You remember we used to have Houses of Chiefs in this country. They were all rubber stamp houses because they practically did nothing and just like House of Lords are virtually being abolished in all parts of Europe.

So my own idea is to first ask a question whether the institution of traditional rulers is necessary in the contemporary Nigerian society. If it is, as it is very essential, then the next question is what will be its function or functions? And like the Senate is planning constitutional roles for traditional rulers, I feel it should be inserted in the Constitution that traditional institution is first and foremost the custodian of our customs and traditions; and so should be made to offer advice to the community and government accordingly. Further more, it should be assigned with the responsibility of assisting the government to maintain peace and security in the community. If there is a national council of traditional rulers, the chairmanship must be rotational in accordance with the country's six geopolitical zones.

The state council of traditional rulers at the moment has no function and in most cases, the chairmanship is rotational. It should also be assigned to assist the local and state governments in internal revenue generation. Members of the institution could be visitors to educational institutions in their localities. They can assist in promoting youth development agencies such as Boy Scouts, Girls' Guides and Boys' Brigades